Thursday, August 14, 2008


Do we ever tire of the backyard cookout? No is the answer I say. Think about it, have you ever seen a photograph of men standing around a smoking grill? OK, now were any of them frowning? Of course not. There are no grumpy people at cookouts. Even if couples argue on the way to the cookout, they just check their “grumpy” at the door. All is well. Lisa and I have been meaning to have a cookout. So we did.

Sunday we invited some friends over for this pot luck style get together. I figured we’d throw some coals on the grill, our friends could bring what they wanted to throw on and we’d have a dish or 2 to share. It was also an opportunity for our friends to see our new house. So the plan was for us all to gather around lunch time, eat, and then spend the rest of the day boating (more on that in a minute). As usual, I begin the day at the grocery store with some rudimentary plan. By the time I walk out, my mental menu is quite set and I know where we’re going with these groceries. For me the meat was just some burgers and dogs but I also made my hummus, cold cucumber and yoghurt soup, and a new potato salad creation that I must share. Now I know I have a flair for the drama at times, but this may be the best potato salad ever –as in the whole history of potato salads. I loved it so much. I guess it depends on your tastes.

There were a couple of keys to this I think. As the creator of several potato salad flops over the years, I feel quite qualified to exalt a certain potato salad wisdom. This way, you don’t have to fall flat on your fanny like I did. 1st of all, skin ON!! I must admit this practice was born of my lazy nature. I hate peeling. I always tend to compare the unpeeled food pile to the peeled food pile and I just am never as far along as I think I should be. Well I was tickled to hear that potato skins were actually edible and yummy. Now they add texture and depth to almost all my potato dishes. 2nd tip is to buy the right potato for the right job. I like the Yukon Gold for this because they have a milder starchiness and they soak up the surrounding flavors better. Baking potatoes have such a great meatiness for baking and the starchy innards of the little new potatoes blend harmoniously with butter and herbs. I could drone on but I think you get the idea. Next, cut the potatoes into the right size pieces. I like them quite small. No more than an inch cubes. This serves a couple of great purposes. The surface area of the potato gets more exposure the dressing AND they are way more convenient to eat. I never enjoyed the requisite bowl of potato salad at family gatherings where each bite was one forth of the potato. If you’re counting we’re on tip #4. Doneness. Now here’s the real secret to this salad hit. I roasted the potatoes at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. This gave the outside of each morsel a beautiful golden texture that still allowed that luscious, creamy dressing flavors to permeate. Right up there with huge potato chunk grossness is the soupy, soggy potato salad from over boiled potatoes. Blechhh! Make no mistake, I’ll boil a potato with the best of them, but the line between perfect doneness and mush is very thin indeed (and I have crossed it a few times -not pretty). On to tip number 8 (CAUGHT YOU!!!! It’s really only number 5). Mix everything together while the potatoes are hot. As I mentioned in a previous potato salad post, this allows the dressing to get into the starch before they cool and seal up. Also mix carefully not to break up the potatoes. If you really want a mashed potato recipe, I’ve got a few of those too. And finally (what tip number is this?), don’t over dress. I used to add my solid ingredients first then add the wet a bit at a time until the consistency was right. Since the potatoes are still hot, they will absorb the velvety dressing over a couple of minutes and you may need another tablespoon or so. Remember, you can always add but you cannot take away.

Wow, with all of those tips, it must sound like making potato salad is just a disaster waiting to happen. Well, there is a slight Zen to it but I had fun over the years getting to this place and if you follow these tips and this recipe you will be rewarded with a tasty side dish.

Well, it was just about the most perfect afternoon. I can’t imagine anything detracting from the children’s laughter. After eating, we put the kids in their lifejackets and were headed out to the center of the lake. Just the night before Lisa, Olivia and I had a fantastic ride under a moonlit sky returning from the dockside restaurant at the north end of Lake Tarpon. With all ready to go, I went back into the house to get the keys. They were not in the drawer. Well OK. I just had them last night. They’re around somewhere. About 3 hours later, I came to the conclusion that they were not around somewhere. I would like to say that we looked everywhere, but we obviously did not look wherever the keys were. I felt like a heel. I invited friends boating and lost the keys.

Fortunately, since we just had a cookout, no one could be grumpy. The kids didn’t seem upset. They had as much fun just playing on the boat as they could have had doing anything else. Adults put the kids in the inner tube and pushed it out into the canal then drug it back with the rope. They loved it. Olivia even fell in. I was a bit nervous about that because there is a gator that polices our canal in the evenings. I even saw him later that night as if taunting me to jump in now.

Monday was another airport day and this time off to Nashville. I was looking forward to exploring the culinary treats of this town but it was more of a pub crawl down Broadway and live music in every bar. I’ll write a bit about this place later because it does deserve its own attention. For now I’ll leave you with a potato salad you can really sink your teeth into. I can’t wait for the next cookout.

Roasted Potato Salad

3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes cubed into 1 inch squares
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped scallion
3 tbsp mayo
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt an pepper to taste

Mix the diced potatoes with olive oil and generously season with salt. Spread out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in a 375 degree pre-heated oven until tender and golden (about 35-40 minutes).
Immediately and while still hot, toss with the rest of the ingredients. And season again with salt and pepper. If desired, the wet ingredients can be added in batches so as not to over coat the potato.

Serves 6-8.

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